MCM is the author of several successful (and extremely addictive) web novels, which he publishes at his site, 1889.ca. His latest work is The Vector – which is also a business experiment in a fiction format he calls ‘Serial +’. Here he talks about how a multi-tiered, superstar class of reviewers can help online fiction. This post is part two of a two part series; the first part can be found at Alan Baxter’s blog.
In my previous post over at Alan Baxter’s site, I talked about why a reviewer class is vital to the overall health of the weblit community. But creating that class shouldn’t just be about copying what the Old Publishing industry does. We’ve got more potential, so we should use it.
This is all going to be based on the Long Tail:
In a nutshell, the head (left) is where the hits are, and the tail (everything else) consists of niches of various shapes and sizes. Mainstream publishing tends to focus on the head, leaving the rest of the graph totally undiscovered. It’s done this way out of necessity: churning the tail would take more resources and split more attentions than anyone can afford. Or, at least in the old system it would.
On the web, we are a massive collection of niches… far more niches than you can possibly put tags to. From a distance, it looks too busy to comprehend, let alone assign a reviewer to. The problem many weblit authors have is that their work doesn’t fit into a genre very cleanly. If you write erotic werewolf scifi mysteries, you probably get ignored by most reviewers, because they have no idea what to do with you. But that’s the old paradigm… on the internet there are as many experts as there are niches. What we need to do is find these connoisseurs and give them the tools they need to be heard and taken seriously, and encourage their authority over their niche.
For this example, we’ll make up a reviewer named Bob. Bob specializes in erotic werewolf scifi mysteries. Don’t judge him. Bob is the one who separates the wheat from the chaff without punishing you for your genre. To the readers and writers in that niche, Bob is the one that you trust for the truth. He becomes a Super User, if only on a limited scale.
Above him, we have an umbrella niche for werewolf stories, with Jen as one of the top reviewers. Dealing with a larger pool of books than Bob, Jen can’t possibly read everything. Instead, she saves herself time by reading the best-ranked books coming from her sub-niches. Bob loved “The Werewolf’s Wife”, so Jen can safely pick it up, knowing the baseline quality is there. If she thinks it will be a good fit for her larger, more diverse niche, she can review it too.
Repeat the process up and up the chain, and at each level, we’re treading closer to the head of the tail. If “The Werewolf’s Wife” is a work of true genius, it will float into the realm of the higher-level reviewers… these aren’t reviewers who are BETTER than their lower niche counterparts, they’re just appealing to a broader base, giving them a bigger readership pool and more influence. Not every book will make it up the structure, but there will be more mobility than ever before.
Now let’s say “The Werewolf’s Wife” made it to the upper levels of the “mystery” niche, and had magnificent reviews. The next book by the same author should (theoretically) not need to start from the bottom anymore. It can premiere near the top, thus removing a lot of the clutter waiting to be discovered by the micro-niche reviewers.
So how do we create this system? It’s pretty simple: first, we need to have a set of standards for reviewers. It needs to include an attribution clause, so as books travel upwards, the reviewers who discovered them are given credit. The reviewers need to establish themselves in their niches, rather than aspiring to be generic. Sites like the Web Fiction Guide could promote this notion of rockstar reviewers.
Authors need to play a part as well: link back to your reviews, send your readers to check them out. Trust isn’t a finite resource, so don’t be stingy with it. The more you teach your audience to trust your reviewers, the more the more powerful those reviewers will become. By helping Bob become well-respected in his niche, you’re giving yourself a head start with all subsequent books. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and the more work you put into it, the healthier the whole system will be.
Making an efficient and dependable reviewer class in the weblit world will help give everyone more credibility, so that when the rest of the world notices what we’re doing here, they’ll feel like it’s fully developed and ready for use. Otherwise, we’re just a wild west of half-wit writers waiting for the established players to arrive and bring us civilization.